Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt is one of the leading global experts in critical research on the length and breadth of gender and community livelihoods in two areas of natural resources: water and extractive industries (mining). Her research is informed by feminist scholar-activist research methodologies.
Kuntala’s contributions to broadening the understanding of the gender and the social impacts of large-scale, capitalised mining industries have led to efforts in engendering community development by the mining industry.
Another aspect of her work has involved reframing the debates around informal, artisanal and small-scale extractive practices of minerals. She has brought the livelihoods of mineral-dependent communities of the Global South to the forefront of global debates on political ecology and political economy of resource extraction.
Most of her research was on South Asia, but she has led a number of major research projects in Indonesia, Lao PDR and Mongolia.
Kuntala has published on how rivers are ‘imagined’ and how the ungovernable chars (river islands) blur the boundary between land and water. Her research on changing perceptions and practices of water use by middle class, urban households, and her reflections on feminist methodologies on researching water and gender have charted new ways of thinking about water resources.
In recent years, Kuntala has explored how the agrarian crisis in South Asia is increasingly ‘feminising’ the rural sector, leading to unforeseen consequences in labour and production relations.
Kuntala joined the ANU in 2002 where her research has been facilitated by its stimulating intellectual environment. Currently, she is an elected member of the ANU’s Academic Board, the apex governing body on academic matters. She has been a member of CAP Research Committee for some years, and has served the Crawford’s Research Committee for a number of years. As an individual, she is humble and modest, and believes in encouraging ‘difference’ within the academia. Currently, she is working with ANU’s SAT-SAGE team to help improve the university’s gender profile.
Currently, Kuntala convenes the gender specialisation in the Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development (MAAPD) and teaches courses (Exploring Gender and Development, ANTH 8038/39, in the first semester and Gender Resources and the Environment, ANTH 8060, in the second semester). In her career as an academic, Kuntala has prioritized training students in social science methods, via masters courses, through designing and running doctoral training programs,through PhD supervision. Her academic leadership has entailed setting up new Masters courses (such as the Gender, Resources and the Environment at the ANU), training post-doctoral research associates in Australia and India, and also instructing research partners in rural India in researching natural resources using social science methods.
Reflecting these efforts, she currently has two Australian Research Council funded research projects. She has recently completed, as the sole Chief Investigator, a large ARC Discovery Project grant, ‘Beyond the Resource Curse’ (see video on an aspect of this study) to explore the livelihoods of quarryworkers in India. She is the lead-Investigator on an ARC Linkage Project, ”Going for Gold’. Both projects are exploring agrarian change, informal mining by peasants and their mineral-dependent livelihoods. Together, these projects covered India, Laos and Indonesia. Information about these projects are available on www.asmasiapacific.com.
A related research is ‘Farmers of the Future’, also funded by the Australian Research Council as a Discovery Project. The study focuses on feminization of agriculture and food security in India, and partly builds upon her fieldwork-based report of women’s experiences of rapid rural change, undertaken for ACIAR. This three-year project began in early June, 2014, and involves experts on food security from the University of Sydney, James Cook University, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences, and the Gujarat Institute of Development Research in India.
Kuntala has advised international policy agencies, and been an advisor to the International Resource Panel on extractives and resource governance at the UNEP (Davos). She has also advised the World Bank and the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). World Bank’s ‘Handbook on Gender in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining’ was partly based on her contribution. For DFAT’s ‘Responsible Mining in Mongolia: Enhancing Positive Engagement’ Handbook, she wrote the chapter on ASM.
She have been visible at the international policy advocacy work in Asia Pacific Water Forum and as part of the Steering Committee of Gender & Water Alliance (GWA).
- 2013 - Senior Visiting Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (August-October)
- Senior Visiting Fellowship award, Australian Academy of Sciences, 2012
- Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship award, RGICS & ANU, 2005
- Career Award, University Grants Commission, India (1999-2002). This prestigious three-year award to mid-career researchers is equivalent to and similar in nature to Future Fellowship awards made by the Australian Research Council..
- Panos Institute, Oral Testimony Project of mining-displaced indigenous people in Jharkhand (2002)
- NASA Post-Doctoral Fellowship (1987)
- Member, ANU Academic Board
- Member, Crawford Research Committee
- Editorial Collective, ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies » more info
- Member, Editorial Board, Asia Pacific Environmental Monograph Series, ANU Press http://press.anu.edu.au/.
- Member, Editorial Board, Space and Culture, India
- Guest Editor Development (Palgrave), March 2008 Journal Issue: ‘Water for People’ (51.1).
- Guest Editor ACME International Journal of Critical Geography Issue (forthcoming):‘Scaling Down: Researching Household water practices’.
Keynote and Addresses Invited/Major Lectures
2014 Keynote address on extractive industries in Otago Foreign Policy School, Dunedin, New Zealand, 27-29 June, 2014.
2014 Invited lecture on ‘Mining and social movements’ in the Summer School, Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany, 1-15 September, 2014.
2013 Professor Satyesh Chakrabarti Memorial Lecture on ‘What is nature? What is resource?’ at The University of Burdwan, India, on 23rd December. 2013 Invited Public Lecture, on ‘Dancing with the River’, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 25 July. 2012 Plenary Lecture on ‘Mining, Nature and Society: A New Feminist Perspective’ in 9th International Mining History Congress, 17-20 April, Johannesburg. 2012 Special Lecture on ‘Researching Natural Resources through a Feminist Lens’, the Institute of Indian Geographers’ conference, 11-14 December, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Trivandrum, Kerala, India. 2011. Plenary Lecture on ‘New Geographies of Water Resources for 21st Century India’s Development’, at the 33rd Indian Geography Congress of the National Association of Geographers India, 11-13 2011, Burdwan. 2010. Keynote Address: ‘The “People” Dimension of Mining’, in the 1st International Mining Conference: Staking a Claim for Cambodia, Organised jointly by the UN and Royal Government of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26-27th May, 2010. 2010. Keynote Address: ‘Dancing with the River: An exploration of river, land and river islands’, Tenth International River Symposium, Perth 11-14th October, 2010. 2008. Community Engagement in Mining: What India Can Do, Asia-Pacific Partnership Workshop on Mine Closure organized by DITR, 18-19th April, 2008, Kolkata, India 2008. Extractive Industries and Community Livelihoods, 21st April, 2008, PetroBangla, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2007. Gender Mainstreaming in ASM, 7th CASM ACC, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. 2007. Social and Environmental Consequences of Coal Mining in India, November, New Delhi, India.
My current research focuses, with funding from an ARC Discovery Project grant (‘Beyond the Resource Curse’), on understanding the poor, experiencing agrarian and social changes, make a living on mineral-rich tracts. This project represents my long term interests in the moral economy of mineral-dependent livelihoods, primarily in India but also in Lao PDR and Indonesia, and in Mongolia.
Related to this major endeavor is my ongoing interest on the social life of underground space, with particular reference to the history of Indian coal mines.
I have, however, retained my interest on critical water resource studies, but my interests have moved into the microscopic domains of the body and the space occupied by them, the household. I am currently developing a critique of the international WASH sector by exploring the feminist politics of menstrual hygiene management, and studying the changing and gendered water use practices in urban households.
My research is primarily on South Asia, mainly India, but also Bangladesh and Indonesia. Doctoral candidates currently working with Kuntala are writing theses on gender and development, water resources management, informal mining and sustainable livelihoods in mining areas.
I am the convenor of gender specialisation at the Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development Program (see at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/maapd/). The teaching programs are interdisciplinary in nature and cross-campus in intake.
I convene two Masters courses, namely ‘Critical Issues in Gender and Development’ (6 Units) and ‘Critical Issues in Gender and Development - Advanced’ (12 Units). From 2014, I have introduced a Masters level course on ‘ Exploring Gender, Resources and the Environment’ (6 Units). My teaching tasks include the preparation of course outline, innovations, course delivery through class lectures, web-based delivery, student management, grading and assessment. Through these courses, I have connected my research with pedagogy. My teaching philosophy can be briefly summarised as learner-centred pedagogy which puts a great amount of importance on peer assisted learning, and the success of which is reflected in the steady rise in student intake in the courses and the high level of satisfaction reflected in Student Evaluation of Learning and Teaching (SELT).
My education-related tasks include research supervision. At the ANU, two students have successfully been awarded doctoral degrees under my supervision, and are currently teaching in Oxford University and Universitas Indonesia. I currently have three doctoral students working on their theses. I have also supervised the work of students undertaking Masters by Thesis and PhB.